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2017 Arizona Cardinals Team Preview
by Scoop Dougherty
After three straight seasons of ten or more wins, including playoff appearances in 2014 and 2015, the Arizona Cardinals slipped to a mediocre 7-8-1 record in 2016. Can they bounce back? This corner believes that will be difficult at best primarily due to two factors: the age of key players and offseason personnel losses, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, the desert dwellers have relied primarily on the talents of two aging stars in former Heisman winner Carson Palmer and future NFL Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. That is, up until last season. Last season saw the emergence of arguably the best all-around running back in the NFL (no offense to Pittsburgh’s LeVeon Bell) in David Johnson. Johnson led the league with 2118 all-purpose yards, including snaring 80 balls, second on the team to Fitzgerald’s 107 catches. Arizona’s head coach, Bruce Arians, has mentioned he wants Johnson to have 30 touches per game this season. While natural to want your best player to be your workhorse, that comes with risks of overload and injury. The Cardinals lack a dependable backup running back (only oft-injured Andre Ellington) and must develop one to give Johnson an occasional breather.
As for Palmer and Fitzgerald, their contributions will likely be a bit measured this season. Palmer regressed last season, throwing for 26 TD’s and completing 14 to the opposition. Some of that was due to age, some due to Arians’ fondness for throwing deep and having Palmer take five and seven-step drops behind a porous offensive line. The passing game must incorporate more short and intermediate routes. However, the Redbirds’ receiving corps is populated with more of deep ball practitioners (J.J. Nelson, John Brown) than not. That leaves the wizardly Fitzgerald (107 catches, 1023 yds, 6 tds last year) and Johnson out of the backfield as the short and intermediate options.
Arizona’s offensive line is strong on the outside (tackles D. J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer) but lacks consistent play at the guard position.
The Cardinals’ defense ranked second in the NFL last year behind only that of the Houston Texans and were the top ranked group in the NFC. Those lofty perches may prove to be difficult to replicate this season. Arizona lost five defensive starters in the offseason with two starting defensive backs and their best defensive lineman, Calais Campbell, now practicing their craft elsewhere. First round draft pick, Hassan Reddick of Temple, will add to an already ferocious pass rush (Markus Golden and Chandler Jones both had ten plus sacks in 2016).
Without Campbell, the Arizona run defense could be suspect, tending to make them exploitable by teams with a strong offensive line and ground game (see Dallas in Week 3). Despite the secondary losses, the Redbirds still have some returning talent in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. These two will be aided by offseason acquisition Antoine Bethea and #2 draft pick Budda Baker from theWashington Huskies.
The Arizona special teams were only slightly better than awful last year. To improve upon that performance, they cut kicker Chris Catanzaro and signed grizzled vet Phil Dawson, he of 18 NFL seasons. They will also look for a more robust punter as last year’s entry, Matt Wie, only had a 37.5 yds per kick average.
The final curtain will more than likely fall on the stellar careers of Palmer and Fitzgerald at season’s end.  Their performances this year and the performance of a revamped defense will go a long way to determine if the Cards repeat last season or return to the playoffs. There is a fine line between a 7 win season and a 10 or 11 win season.

Seattle Seahawks-Rebound or Rebuild?

Author: Scoop Dougherty
NFC Correspondent

While not as dominant as they were during their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015, the Seattle Seahawks remain the team to beat in the NFC West.

Offensively, Russell Wilson remains the unquestioned leader of the team and the one whose arm and legs will play a critical role in any success the team will have in 2017. However, 2016 was an uneven year for him. While he had his best yardage year ever (4219 yards), he had a near career low 21 TD passes. Much of this could be attributed to multiple ankle injuries which severely impacted his usually dynamic mobility. Other factors were the handicap of working behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and a knee injury to Ty Lockett, the team’s best deep threat.

There is barely anywhere to go but up for the Seattle running game. With no more Beast Mode (Marshawn Lynch) and the aforementioned woeful offensive line, the Seahawks finished 25th (out of 32) in league rushing with a meager 99.4 yards per game.

With all of that in mind, Seattle signed Eddie Lacy as a free agent from Green Bay. Lacy is a physical bruiser who underachieved in GB and has ongoing problems with his weight. However, if he can replicate the success of Lynch (who didn’t sparkle prior to his Seattle tenure), the Seahawk ground game may rebound. Backing up Lacy will be Thomas Rawls who, with a contrasting running style to Lacy, can contribute if he can avoid the injury bug which has plagued him in his first two seasons in the league.

Seattle’s receiving corps is a strength of the team. Doug Baldwin firmly established himself as one of the best receivers in the league last year with his 94 catch, 1128 yard season. Baldwin, a superb route runner, will be joined by Jimmy Graham, who has regained his aura as one of the league’s top tight ends. Graham seems fully recovered from a serious knee injury and pulled in 65 receptions in 2016.

While the defense is not as stellar as it was during the Super Bowl years, it still suffices as the foundation of the team. Earl Thomas returns from a broken leg and will join Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman to form the core of, arguably, the best secondary in the NFL. Sherman remains a lockdown corner that he has always been since entering the league from Stanford, but his inability to control his emotions led the team to consider trading him in the offseason. He will have to regain their trust.

Elsewhere on defense, the linebacking corps is solid being led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Wagner led the NFL in tackles last season with a career-best 167 and is in his prime. Wright also had a career-best 126 tackles and is being counted on to be as productive this year.

The defensive line is more than adequately manned, in part, by Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Bennett is generally considered to be one of the league’s most dominant offensive lineman while Avril, usually getting less ink than his more publicized teammates, has a first step that is one of the best in the league.

So, summing up, expect the Seahawks to have a similar record to last year (10-5-1), win the NFC West, and secure a playoff berth. The key to that expected level of success will remain the performance of the offensive line in protecting Wilson and opening holes for Lacy and Rawls.

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